Wednesday, May 19, 2010

DC Hawkeye on Ice

I love hockey. There are few things I love more than hockey, but I should clarify: There are few things I love more than watching hockey. I have never played hockey. Despite my predisposition toward anything involving humiliation and/or physical injury, I've never even strapped on a pair of skates. It's something I've wanted to do for years and have talked to friends about going out and doing, but it just never got done. Until today.

This time I didn't even try to sucker anyone into going with me, I decided to go to Kettler after work and find out what I'm made of.

The timing wasn't random, it was actually inspired by this article in yesterday's Washington Post Express about a hockey "skills & drills" class. The part that captured my interest was how they describe that the class "...takes anyone who can skate and teaches them how to hustle a puck." That sentence alone got me into a pair of rented ice skates 24 hours after reading. Having "learn how to skate" on my to-do list is one thing, but considering that to be the only thing standing between me and learning some mad puck-handling skills is another thing altogether. Learning to skate is no longer the goal, it's the annoying precursor to the awesomeness of me actually playing hockey someday. Heck, I play in a skeeball league, hockey is the next logical step, right?

So, a few hours after I read the article I began looking online for places that have beginners lessons on how to skate. There are a few places in the area, but it looks like my best bet if I want to start learning ASAP is in Rockville. They have a six-week class that began on May 15th, but I can still sign up having missed the first class. I was ready to do it, but I thought it would be best to head out to Kettler and find out exactly what I'm dealing with here. I mean, if I break my ankle during my first class, then I've wasted a lot of money! I want to know I'll be able to make it five weeks. Naturally, I headed out to Kettler so I could break my ankle tonight with less financial burden.

I didn't break the ankle after all, though I expect it will be a bit swollen tomorrow from all the wobbling.

This was a very difficult thing to do by myself. I knew that I could have found someone to go with me sometime this week, but I was on a mission. I had to do it today while I was making up my mind about the classes in Rockville. I arrived at the adult public skate as the Zamboni was resurfacing the ice. Then I watched a line of adults skate out onto the rink. Some were off to the side working on various skills, but most of them were skating laps around the ice. It was very much like the roller skating rink. Everyone skates in a circle at various speeds. I asked the girl at the skate rental counter, "I have never skated before. Would it be a horrible idea to go out there right now, never having any lessons, not knowing what I'm doing?" She thought it was a great idea. "You're never going to learn anything until you get out there." Damn her and her skating wisdom! I half wanted her to talk me out of it. She did the opposite of talking me out of it. She encouraged me.

Not only did the girl at the rental counter encourage me, but she was extremely helpful. She gave me some tips - told me to try figure skates first, rather than hockey skates. She showed me the different blades and explained how you have to balance your center of gravity differently on hockey skates and it's harder to do if you're skating for the first time. She told me not to try and use the toepick to stop, and then (bless her heart) when I told her my shoe size, she examined all of the skates to find a good, sharp blade. She told me where the lockers were and sent me on my way.

I was surprised at how well I stayed balanced on the skates, but that didn't stop me from clinging to the boards for dear life. I recognized one of the guys as a Kettler employee and asked him for pointers. He was so unimpressed with me. "I can't, I've got to watch the skate." I explain, "Oh no, I'm not asking you to 'show' me anything, I just don't know how to get started. How long of a stride I should take, how to lean, that sort of stuff. You don't have to show me, just tell me how to push off." He was unflinching: "Ehhhhh, I'm not an instructor." I was obnoxious: "But you know how to skate!" The best I could get out of him was that the instructors say to stride about the same as walking, and to hang onto the sides all the way around the rink if I have to. Thanks! I hope no shenanigans went on during the public skate while you took the time to talk to me!

I kid the skate supervisor, but I did heed his advice about hanging onto the sides. I stayed within an arm's length of the boards at all times. It was like training wheels. I'd get going for a while and then I would wobble and catch myself. I think the ice along the sides may have been harder to skate on because there were so many grooves already in the ice that I could feel myself skating in and out of divots, which made it harder to maintain my balance. In the endzones there were a lot of people working on various skills, so it was considerably more embarrassing to make my way around the corners because people had to get out of my way. It was pretty clear that I was going to keep my grip and was not going to go around them. (For their own safety, really. If they're standing between me and the ledge, I'm still gonna grab the closest thing to me when I lose my balance. Better to be the boards than them!)

I took a couple of laps and each time I was interrupting the same people who were camped out along the endzones. They were not hanging on for safety as I was, they were working with other people on specific skills. Two girls looked like they were doing some kind of ballet moves and using the ledge as a barre. They did not much care for my intrusions. In fact, many of the people looked annoyed as I made my laps. I came around the corners very apologetically and poking fun at myself while letting them know it was my first time. Everyone was accommodating and usually nice about it. It still didn't stop some people from scowling at me. I began to wish I had worn an eye patch, or something that would immediately make them feel sympathetic toward me or think that something was wrong with me so they would be more patient. If I had some deformity, or was wearing a head brace or neck brace or something, I think I would have gotten a warmer response from other skaters. I didn't have anything to outwardly evoke sympathy. I could never fake something like that and my actual physical shortcomings wouldn't have warmed anyone up to my strugles. For example, if I had skated by shouting, "Asthmatic, coming through" or, "Pardon me, I have irritable bowels" as I plowed through the arena. Nope, I'm just a regular person with regular problems, who just happens to not have a clue how to skate.

I took three good laps and it started to get easier until the Kettler employee who is not an instructor blew the horn and everyone began to skate the opposite direction. This was a game-changer. Up until then I felt like I was making progress with my right hand out to steady myself, grabbing the boards when I slipped up (which became less and less frequent.) When we switched directions, I had to use my left hand to catch myself, and that was much harder to keep steady. After one more lap I knew it was time to quit. If I sign up for lessons in Rockville, my first class will be this Saturday and I didn't want to push myself harder and put more strain on my poor ankles before then. Plus, the exasperated looks of the other skaters was beginning to make me feel self conscious. My Midwestern sensibilities recognized these two rules of thumb: Don't beat yourself up before you even begin, and don't wear out your welcome. It was definitely time to go.

I returned to the skate rental counter and my friend from earlier was at another counter talking to coworkers. I called her over and she asked if I was trading the skates for another size, I said, "No, I'm done. I'm turning them in." She said, "Oh. You can just leave them on the counter." I was hoping she would ask how it went and talk to me some more about how to get used to skating. Instead, she pretty much told me that I had called her over there for no reason. She was so over me. It was time to go.

I'm going to keep at it and eventually it will get easier and the wobbling will stop. After that, I'll move on to the new challenges of trying to learn how to handle a puck. It's times like this when I wish I could be a kid again. Trying new things is so much easier before we learn the concept of humiliation.

Sign in time: 8:02 p.m.

Sign out time: 8:25 p.m. That includes the time it took to rent the skates, get some pointers, and get a locker. I must have been on the ice only 15 minutes but it felt so much longer!


bozoette said...

Good for you! I didn't take lessons until I was in my 30s. It's fun!

dcpeg said...

You GO girl! I'm also a midwesterner and was fortunate enough to have grown up a block from an outdoor, town ice rink. It was the smaller of two and had no lights, but I was there every day after school in winter.

I loved your idea of the eye patch and will have to remember to bring one should I ever get out on the ice again. Spouse loves hockey (Go Caps!) and thinks ice skating is easy. One of these days I'm gonna show just how "easy" it is!

Loved your story and your writing style. I'll be back for more!

crusher said...

You'll have the puck-handling skills of a Claude Giroux in no time ;-)

Anonymous said...

Keep up the good work. It'll be worth it!

I'm impressed, and may even be shamed into finally learning to skate myself!

Good luck!